Marty Lehman is a native of Northern Indiana. She is a graduate of Indiana University at South Bend, having received a master’s degree in public affairs and an undergraduate degree in sociology. In addition, she has taken courses at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary and Rosedale Bible College. Marty is a retired pastor and administrator. During her working years, she served with numerous Mennonite organizations, including serving as the administrative pastor at College Mennonite Church and the associate executive director of Mennonite Church USA (MC USA). Currently, she serves on boards and committees, and as a congregational coach for Indiana Michigan Mennonite Conference and on the MC USA Leadership Discernment Committee. She is married to Rex Hooley, and they are long-term members of College Mennonite Church.
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” — Matthew 25:37-40 (NIV)
Like many Mennonite Church USA congregations, College Mennonite Church seeks to be engaged in outreach in our local community. We want to be a center of mission. One way that we do this is through a congregational strategic visioning process. Five or six years ago, we agreed upon the following strategic priorities:
- We will embrace diversity and improve our practices related to welcoming and actively including and inviting others into our physical space and spiritual community.
- As CMCers of all ages seek to follow Jesus, we will deepen our faith, strengthen theological understanding — especially of our own Anabaptist traditions — and grow through spiritual practices.
- We will grow in our practice of love, caring and unity, respecting diversity within our congregation and community.
We knew this was a bold move, as we live in a rapidly changing small city. According to the latest census numbers, our community is roughly 30% Hispanic, with the rest of the population being primarily white. As a middle-to-upper middle-class congregation, these priorities fulfilled our need to help others.
As we began implementing our new priorities, one of our first congregational actions was to invite Madeline and David Maldonado, long-time Mennonite pastors in Florida, to join our team, as pastors for community outreach. They quickly found ways to be engaged in the community. They were invited to do a radio program on a local Spanish station. During the pandemic, we opened a food kitchen, primarily for immigrant families. As the Maldonados became known in the community, there were many requests for their pastoral care.
As a result, we have seen a slow and steady increase in Hispanic members in our church family.
Recently, we started receiving immigrant families from Venezuela. For a while, a new family arrived almost every week. Many came with only the clothes on their backs. Members of our church family responded, and soon, we had a team working to help these families with everything from clothing to furniture to housing and more.
One member of the team reached out to a local mattress manufacturing company and spoke with the CEO. She asked if he would consider selling mattresses to us at cost. He agreed and thanked her for allowing them to be part of our ministry to new immigrants.
While our strategic plan did call for us to do outreach in the community, it did not include any priorities regarding immigrant resettlement ministries. Rather, people began coming to us, and our congregation responded. It is very unlike white Mennonites to do ministry in this way. We tend to prefer writing a strategic plan, getting congregational approval, forming a committee, raising funds and, then, beginning the ministry. But we didn’t have time to do any of these things. People with nothing were coming to us, and we needed to quickly meet their needs. We made it up as we went. In no time, we had a team of volunteers who put together a structure for providing what was needed.
Our worship services also reflect our outreach to our new church family members. We offer simultaneous interpreting for both our English and Spanish services. All our written communications are now in both English and Spanish. We have incorporated some Spanish into our weekly call to worship. We had our first quinceañera.
Engaging with our new church family members is both exciting and stretching.
When I take food to a family that has recently arrived, I feel grateful for the opportunity to share. When we provide transportation for a junior high aged girl who is being bullied, we get to know her and others who ride with her. It is life giving to be engaged in a church family with a wide range of cultures and needs. Indeed, this is the work of being the hands and feet of Jesus. Isn’t that what being the church is all about?
I wish I could say that everyone in our congregation is engaged and grateful that we have met our strategic priorities — that we can experience new and different cultures. But this is not the case. Merging two different cultures into worship, music, pastoral care, congregational meals and how we function as a church family requires change. For some, that is more change than they are ready to experience.
College Mennonite Church was founded in 1903 as the church for professors and staff who worked at Goshen College. Over time, this has changed. We are no longer the church where all Goshen College employees attend. Today, we represent a wide range of people from the community, including those who were not raised in the Mennonite faith and those who are not white. We do not select who God sends to our congregation. Rather, we receive all who wish to be part of our church family. After all, the church is a place for everyone.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not intended to represent the views of the MC USA Executive Board or staff.
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